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Smoke in the colors of the Egyptian national flag trails after military aircraft over the skies of Cairo, Egypt.
Associated Press/Photo by Maya Alleruzzo
Smoke in the colors of the Egyptian national flag trails after military aircraft over the skies of Cairo, Egypt.

Red, white, and black

Egypt | Egypt’s newest Independence Day brings celebrations—and questions about what’s next

Egyptian military planes buzzed over Cairo on Friday, leaving behind plumes of smoke in red, white and black—the colors of the Egyptian flag. 

The display was part of an ongoing celebration of a remarkable week in Egypt: On Wednesday, the Egyptian military announced the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, after as many as 17 million demonstrators flooded streets and demanded his resignation. The military also announced the suspension of a controversial constitution rushed through last year. 

By Thursday, the Egyptian military had arrested Morsi, and blacked out the Muslim Brotherhood’s television station. (Morsi is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.) The country’s chief justice became its interim president until Egypt holds new presidential and parliamentary elections.

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On Friday morning, thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters protested outside the Republican Guard barracks—the likely site where the military is holding Morsi. An Associated Press photographer reported a soldier fired into the crowd, and killed at least one person.

The clash raised worries about potential violence or a standoff with Muslim Brotherhood supporters angered by the ouster of Morsi a year after Egyptians elected him to office. 

Meanwhile, the remarkable week raised difficult questions about what’s next in Egyptian politics. Though a coalition of secularists, Muslims, and Coptic Christians pressed for Morsi’s resignation, it’s unclear how the groups would form a balance of power that would please disparate interests.

For now, the National Salvation Front—an umbrella organization for 35 different political parties and groups—has named Mohammed ElBaradei as leader of the coalition. ElBaradei served as the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from 1997 to 2009, and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.

ElBaradei once described himself as a “secular pope,” trying to keep nations from devolving into nuclear war. But he also drew criticism for what some perceived as a pro-Iran stance during his time at the IAEA. Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton has described ElBaradei as having an “anti-American bias.”

The leader clashed with the George W. Bush administration over its handling of the Iraq War, but seemed to warm to President Barack Obama in the early months of his presidency. 

That favor cooled in 2011 when the Obama administration was slow to call for former President Hosni Mubarak to step down during similar mass demonstrations that ended with his ouster. Obama’s tacit support for Morsi since his election has embittered many Egyptians against the American president. This week, some carried signs of Obama’s face with a red line crossed through it.

The Obama administration offered a muted response to the events in Egypt this week. By Friday, Obama didn’t mention Morsi, but called on the Egyptian military to restore “a democratically civilian government.”

Millions of Egyptians wait to see if that goal will become a reality. Some wonder what will make this revolution different from the one the country underwent just two years ago. In an interview with The New York Times, ElBaradei admitted, “It is déjà vu all over again.” But he added: “Hopefully this time we will get it right.”

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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